Archive for September, 2012

The post-structuralist version of the Sermon on the Mount

Monday, September 10th, 2012

Ms. Butler fights the regressive “my side, right or wrong” with the liberating “your side, right or wrong.” It’s the post-structuralist version of the Sermon on the Mount: “Love thy enemy more than thyself.” But what if that enemy embraces a savage form of loving themselves and hating us? What if it takes an extreme interpretation of Muslims’ edict to “love and hate for Allah’s sake”? This enemy makes all our utopian and multiculturalist projects impossible. — Benjamin Weinthal and Richard Landes, “The Post-Self-Destructivism of Judith Butler

Judith Butler is an American academic (philosophy) known for her quick mind, impenetrable prose and anti-Israel activism. The quotation is from an article about the controversy surrounding her selection by the city of Frankfurt to receive its important Adorno Prize for excellence in philosophy, music, theater and film.

I’ll leave it to Weinthal and Landes to describe the particular trouble with Ms Butler and the Germans, and to others to evaluate her academic work, which (despite my philosophy degrees) is far beyond my understanding.

But I find the quotation above perceptive, illuminating perfectly how Westerners fail to conceptualize the struggle that we find ourselves in (or don’t recognize!) today. Despite our obsession with diversity, we fail to understand precisely how some cultures are diverse.

Virtually all humans favor their own family members, especially their children, over unrelated humans. This is an innate characteristic that can be explained as a result of natural selection: those humans who behave like this are more likely to pass on their DNA to future generations.

Tribalism is an expansion of this ‘family’ preference to larger groups — extended family, tribe, people, nation. The evolutionary argument to explain it is a bit more complicated: those groups made up of individuals who tend to favor members of their own group and to display hostility to other groups are more likely to dominate others, obtain choice land and hunting grounds, and survive as groups, thus promoting the survival of their members, who will pass on their ‘tribalist’ genes.

What we call ‘patriotism’ is a fellow-feeling that applies to a very large unit, the nation. It is an extrapolation of the same feeling that we have for smaller groups.

Natural selection works because of environmental pressures, so societies in different environments have evolved different degrees of tribalism. Nomadic peoples often come into contact and conflict with ‘strange’ groups that they must either dominate or be dominated by. Settled agricultural peoples, on the other hand, rarely meet strangers, and can even obtain an advantage by cooperating with neighboring tribes rather than fighting with them.

The Hebrew Bible is (among many other things) an expression of tribalism along with rules for cooperation when appropriate (e.g., treating the stranger who dwells among us well).  The ancient Hebrews were a nomadic people and behaved like one; later, the Prophets spoke to a primarily agricultural population.

Christianity and liberal Judaism went much further, suggesting that the favored treatment previously reserved for tribe members should be expanded to all humankind. Judith Butler and other Jewish anti-Zionists often claim that their anti-Zionism is based on Jewish ethics — by which of course they mean a very liberal or even Christianized Judaism, one which depends on a special way of reading the Torah (or often on not reading it).

Today, as has happened numerous times before in history,  massive cultures or empires are coming into conflict with one another. One side is radical Islam, whose basic principles are drawn directly from the culture of nomadic Arabs of the Seventh Century. Many of their leaders are Arabs, who are only a few generations removed from a nomadic lifestyle and whose culture reflects this.

On the other side we have people of European heritage, formerly farmers, whose culture was profoundly influenced by Christianity (even if they reject it today).

Both sides imagine their place on the spectrum of tribalism as an absolute moral principle. The Islamists are certain that the proper world order is for the infidels to submit, and violence and war in order to bring this about is not only not wrong, it is profoundly right.

The West, on the other hand, believes in peace and above all, cooperation. It believes that war is only justified in self-defense, that it is possible to solve all disagreements by negotiation and compromise, the way a farmer negotiates the location of a fence with his neighbor.

Many Westerners believe that their universalism is morally superior to — more evolved than — the tribal consciousness of the Islamists, and that, by means of education, the Islamists will come to share it. This is clearly nonsense.

Now along come the academics and extreme leftists of the post-structuralist, post-colonialist, post-Zionist and post-American variety who go even further. They don’t want to compromise, they want to collaborate with the enemy. They reject their own tribalism and find their own nations corrupt, but they can’t stop there. They go on to attribute nobility and moral goodness to their enemies, who want to slaughter them!

From a philosophical point of view, their position is contradictory. If Western tribalism is false, even evil, why is Islamist tribalism acceptable?

So although the West is much more powerful than the Islamists militarily, it unfortunately has chosen moral unilateral disarmament. The Islamists, although lacking the physical resources of the West, understand the psychological dimension of the conflict much more clearly and exploit it. They will negotiate until the cows come home, but the aim is always for them to win and for us to lose. The only game they play is a zero-sum game.

The Jewish people, the Europeans and the Americans have recently exhibited strong strains of tribalism and patriotism. The state of Israel would not exist, and the Axis would have won WWII if this was not the case. Could this have been lost in two or three generations?

We need to understand that a universalist civilization will not survive a contest with a tribalist one. If we don’t value our civilization, who will?

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Evergreen State — a total immersion experience

Sunday, September 9th, 2012
'Israeli settlement' built on Evergreen campus by "TESC Divest!" student group

‘Israeli settlement’ built on Evergreen campus by “TESC Divest!” student group

Recently I wrote a couple of posts about Rachel Corrie (here and here). I was particularly interested in what prompted her to go to Gaza with the International Solidarity Movement [ISM], a group which sends idealistic young Westerners to serve as human shields for Hamas or PLO guerrillas in the front lines of the low-intensity Arab war against the Jewish state.

A few of these ‘internationals’ have been seriously hurt, or, like Corrie, killed, sacrifices on the altar of anti-Israel propaganda.

How does it happen that young people are prepared to risk everything for a cause which, by any logic, is not theirs; and which, as causes go, is not especially pressing (the Palestinian Arabs in Gaza or Judea/Samaria are better off in every way than Palestinians in Lebanon, Copts in Egypt, Sunnis in Syria, etc.)?

The answer is that there are well-tuned systems set up on many of our campuses which recruit, process and send students off in service of the Palestinian Cause. These machines have a permanent nucleus of a few dedicated faculty members, which is orbited closely by student organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine, the Muslim Student Association, Jewish Voice for Peace, and more.

There are also peripheral groups that support the projects of the central players, usually because of a perception of shared ‘colonial oppression’ — this sometimes includes LGBT groups, immigrants’ rights organizations, etc.

Students drawn into these psycho-political cyclotrons are insulated from all other voices, and what begins as a concern for human rights is amplified by contact with more and more extreme expressions of anti-Israel ideology until they fly off, completely one-dimensional, often white-hot with hatred for the Jewish ‘colonialists’, prepared to cooperate if need be with murderous terrorists because of their perception of the overwhelming justice and need of their Cause.

The Evergreen State College [TESC] of Olympia, Washington, where Rachel Corrie was recruited, has provided a disproportionate number of ISM volunteers. As I wrote before, faculty members Steve Niva and (former faculty) Simona Sharoni were mentioned several times in Corrie’s diaries as important influences on her decision to go to Gaza.

If we look at the overall environment of Evergreen, perhaps we can understand the way today’s Corries are submerged in the Palestinian narrative and Israel-hating ideology. A student group called “TESC Divest!” — which, for some reason does not appear in the list of official student organizations on TESC’s website — is the center of several boycott-divestment-sanctions [BDS] projects, as well as various “informational” activities and events.

TESC Divest! probably represents the majority of the students and faculty at Evergreen. For example, in 2010, Evergreen students voted to pass two BDS resolutions with huge majorities, both over 70%. And here is a list of faculty and staff that endorsed them:

Anne Fischel, Ph.D, Communication
Anita Lenges, Ph.D, Curriculum and Instruction
Bob Woods, M.F.A. Sculpture
Carolyn Prouty, D.V.M., Veterinary Medicine
Davi Zielinski Koska, Evergreen Staff, Community Activist
E.J. Zita, Ph.D., Physics
Elizabeth Williamson, Ph.D., English Literature
Erik Thuesen, Ph.D., Biological Sciences
Gillies Malnarich, Co-Director of the Washington Center for Improving Undergraduate Education
Jean Eberhardt, Evergreen Staff — [advisor mentioned in Rachel Corrie Diaries — ed.]
Jon Davies, Ed.D
Jose Gomez, J.D. from Harvard Law School
Judith Gabriele
Larry Mosqueda, Ph.D., Political Science,
Laurie Meeker, M.F.A., Film Production
Lin Nelson, Ph.D., Spanish
Liza Rognas, M.A., Information Resources and Library Science,
Lori Blewett, Ph.D., Speech Communication
Marianne Hoepli
Michael Vavrus, Ph.D., Instructional Development and Technology
Paul McMillin, M.L.I.S., Library and Information Science
Peter Bohmer, Ph.D., Economics
Ruth Hayes, M.F.A., Experimental Animation
Sarah Ryan, M.A., Labor and Industrial Relations
Savvina Chowdhury, Ph.D., Economics
Susan Preciso, M.A., English
Ted Whitesell, Ph.D., Geography
Therese Saliba, Ph.D., English; Fulbright Scholar, 1995
Tony Zaragoza, Doctoral Studies, American Studies
Zahid Shariff, Doctor of Public Administration
Zoltan Grossman, Ph.D., Geography

And here are student organizations that also endorsed the resolutions:

Student of Color Union (SOC-U) — [because we are all colonized — ed.]
Black Student Union (BSU) — [because Palestinians aren’t racists — ed.]
Native Student Alliance (NSA)
Women of Color Coalition (WOCC)
Asian Pacific Islander Coalition (APIC)
Evergreen Bike Shop — [because Palestinians are green — ed.]
Counter Point Journal (CxPJ)
Mideast Solidarity Project (MSP)
Latin American Solidarity Organization (LASO)
Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES)
Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA)
Developing Ecological Agriculture Practices (DEAP)
Women’s Resource Center (WRC) — [because Palestinians are feminists — ed.]
Evergreen Queer Alliance (EQA) — [because Palestinians are LGBT-friendly — ed.]
Hip Hop Congress

Evergreen State College is a total immersion experience — immersion in anti-Israel propaganda.

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Surrender corrupts the soul of Israel

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

This morning, a friend sent me an article by Leonard Fein called “Occupation Corrupts Soul of Israel.”

Fein writes,

Hakibush mashchit — The occupation corrupts.

And so, plainly, it does. But so what? However inadvertent the origins, the poison fruit is today fully ripe. To understand that, it is not sufficient to call attention to the horrific attack in Zion Square the other night, the attack by a mob that threatened the life of Jamal Julani, or even to add to it the firebombing hours earlier of a taxi near Gush Etzion in which six Palestinians, two of them children, were wounded.

He goes on to talk about “settler violence,” the complicity of the authorities (if you ask the ‘settlers’, they will tell you that the authorities in fact protect the Arabs), price tag vandalism, etc.

Is this the “poison fruit” of ‘occupation’?

Or is it simply that some Jews have — after decades of murder, vandalism, no-go zones in Israel’s capital and other places, stonings, lynchings, etc. — learned to act like Arabs?

Did the poison come from Jews living in their historic homeland, or from the Arabs who hate them?

The Left’s solution is to end the ‘occupation’, to withdraw from Judea, Samaria, the Golan, and eastern Jerusalem. In short, give them what they want and everything will be fine. Of course “what they want” is not limited to the territories, and surrendering them will just send the message that we are too weak to resist, and they will redouble their efforts to obtain the rest.

I responded to my friend that if ‘occupation’ corrupts the soul, then withdrawal, with its concomitant rocket attacks and terrorism might well corrupt the body in a very physical way.

But in addition to the security issues, there is something still more important, which is well-understood by the Arabs, if not by the Leonard Feins. Here is a 2009 remark by PLO official Abbas Zaki, which explains it well:

With the two-state solution, in my opinion, Israel will collapse, because if they get out of Jerusalem, what will become of all the talk about the Promised Land and the Chosen People? What will become of all the sacrifices they made – just to be told to leave? They consider Jerusalem to have a spiritual status. The Jews consider Judea and Samaria to be their historic dream. If the Jews leave those places, the Zionist idea will begin to collapse. It will regress of its own accord. Then we will move forward.

Fein is wrong. The corruption of the Jewish soul did not begin in 1967. It began with the adoption of the idea that surrender is pro-Israel, with — as Fein mentions — the birth of Peace Now and the national self-flagellation that followed the Sabra and Shatilla massacres (in which Arabs behaved like Arabs), and culminated in the suicidal decision to allow Arafat and the PLO to return from exile in 1993. Today, it’s fed by a huge influx of money from the European antisemites who support the anti-state NGOs in Israel that are all that’s left of the Left.

It isn’t ‘occupation’ that corrupts — it’s surrender.

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Should Israel bet the farm on US promises?

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Recently, Israel’s security cabinet met for 10 hours to discuss, among other things, Iran. Details of  the meeting were secret, but

It is likely that among the issues discussed were the “red lines” that Israel would like the United States to establish as a way of deterring Iran from moving ahead. While Netanyahu has not publicly declared what he thinks those red lines should be, Uzi Arad, the former head of the National Security Council, said that they could include a declaration that any uranium enrichment beyond 20 percent would be a direct trigger for military action.

Arad, in an Israel Radio interview, said other possible red lines could be the discovery of additional uranium enrichment plants – like the once secret facilities at Natanz and Fordow – or the interference with the work of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors.

In addition, Arad said that the US has not yet spoken in “categorical terms” making crystal clear its determination to stop the Iranian nuclear march.

An example of this, he said, would be clearer presidential declarations to the effect that the US will not tolerate or allow a nuclear Iran, and will use all means to prevent it.

Other “categorical” expressions of this determination, Arad said, could be congressional authorization now of the use of force if diplomacy fails to convince the Iranians to halt, and a clear statement that the military objective of any US action would not be to “buy time,” but rather to prevent Iran from ever being able to build a nuclear bomb.

There is also this, from an AP report:

After tense exchanges with the Americans, Israeli political and defense officials said Tuesday that the sides are now working closely together in hopes of getting their positions in sync. Clearer American assurances on what pressure it is prepared to use against Iran, including possible military action, would reduce the need for Israel to act alone, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a security matter.

I hope that this does not represent the thinking of Israeli policymakers. It is imperative to deal with reality as it is, not as we would wish it to be. And reality is 1) that only military action or a credible threat thereof will stop Iran from developing deliverable nuclear bombs, and 2) that an Obama administration, or even a Romney administration, is highly unlikely to provide this.

A strategy of stopping Iran by getting the US to promise to enforce red lines is only a promise; and nations — the US is not alone in this — do not keep promises when doing so is not determined to be in their interest.

Here is an example. In 2004, the US was very interested that Israel carry out its proposed withdrawal from the Gaza strip. President Bush wrote a letter to then-PM Ariel Sharon — I would link to the original, but it has been removed from the White House website — promising that

In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949…

Israeli officials insisted that there was also an informal agreement that this would be understood as allowing construction in settlements located in areas that Israel intended to keep in any proposed agreement with the Palestinians.

By 2008, even the Bush Administration was backing away:

National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, at a news briefing in January [2008], suggested that Bush’s 2004 letter was aimed at helping Sharon win domestic approval for the Gaza withdrawal. “The president obviously still stands by that letter of April of 2004, but you need to look at it, obviously, in the context of which it was issued,” he said.

The Obama Administration finished the job in 2009:

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rejected Israeli assertions that the Bush administration had reached a binding agreement with Israel on Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

“We have the negotiating record, that is the official record that was turned over to the Obama administration by the outgoing Bush administration,” Clinton said Friday at a joint press conference with her Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu.

“There is no memorialization of any informal or oral agreement” concerning the settlements, she said.

Since coming to office in January, President Barack Obama has repeatedly called on Israel to halt all settlement activity in Palestinian areas, a demand rejected by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Israelis say they received commitments from the previous US administration of President George W. Bush permitting some growth in existing settlements.

They say the US position was laid out in a 2004 letter from Bush to then Israeli premier Ariel Sharon.

Clinton rejected that claim, saying any such US stance was informal and “did not become part of the official position of the United States government.”

Is this the kind of promise-keeping that a nation can bet its existence on? I don’t think so.

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Why didn’t they leave the platform alone?

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Earlier today I discussed the surprising degree to which the 2012 Democratic platform differed from the 2008 and 2004 platforms in respect to Israel. The changes represent a significant tilt toward Palestinian positions on Arab refugees, Jerusalem and Hamas. It also leaves out prior language about helping Israel maintain a “qualitative military edge” over its adversaries.

The interesting question is “why did they change it?” A platform is not a binding document; it is intended as a general statement of a party or candidate’s positions. Its planks are generally written to appeal the broadest possible constituencies. Most voters never read platforms or care about them.

If they had not changed the 2008 text nobody would have noticed. And at a time when Republican opponents are doing their best to argue that Obama is an anti-Israel president, one would expect Democrats to avoid giving them ammunition.

Unless they think that being anti-Israel is a plus. This would also fit in with recent public statements and actions regarding Iran, which they present as a problem for Israel but not particularly the US.

But polls consistently show that the majority of Americans support Israel. So how can this make sense? To answer this, we need to look at who these pro-Israel Americans are; and by in large, they are not likely Obama voters. Most are white Evangelical Protestants, who are solidly Republican already. Some — a comparatively tiny number — are Jews for whom Israel is a major issue that influences their vote. Many of these have already abandoned Obama. The majority of Jews, however, lean Democratic on the basis of domestic issues and will not be affected.

If this tilt against Israel doesn’t hurt Obama too much, where does it help him? There are two groups that will take notice and approve of the change. One is his left-wing base. These are mostly students and others who have a “postcolonial” anti-Zionist (and anti-Western) point of view. It is critical for the Democrats to enlist these activists in the final get-out-the-vote effort.

It seems that just as Romney barely budged toward the center after receiving the nomination, so too Obama prefers to activate his troops rather than to reach out for undecided votes.

The second group of voters is the Ron Paul crowd. They have not as yet displayed much affection for either Obama or Romney, but they will find the suggestion of less military aid to Israel appealing. They are also happy to see Obama avoiding ‘complicity’ in a possible Israeli attack on Iran.These two groups, along with American Muslims, constitute an anti-Zionist bloc. This move locks it in for Obama.

There is another possibility that cannot be discounted. That is that the change is intended to send a message to the leadership of the Muslim nations that Obama has been courting since his 2009 speech in Cairo — Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc. — a message that he is taking concrete steps to weaken the “unbreakable bond” between the US and Israel. Perhaps he is finally working to fulfill his promise to pro-Palestinian activist Ali Abunimah that he would be “more up front” in helping the Palestinians in the future.

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